School Libraries

Child at library

School librarians bear the brunt of staff reductions


A downward trend in the number of school librarians
School year Librarians Change Students/other support staff Change
2005–2006 54,068   1,422,300  
2006–2007 54,445 0.70% 1,406,049   −1.14%
2007–2008 54,385   −0.11% 1,435,684 2.11%
2008–2009 53,802   −1.07% NA NA
2009–2010 52,541   −2.34% 1,500,920 NA
2010–2011 50,300   −4.27% 1,482,224    −1.25%

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Public Elementary and Secondary School Student Enrollment and Staff Counts from the Common Core of Data reports, 2007–2012, via ALA Office for Research and Statistics.


The number of school librarians declined more than other school staff from 2007 to 2011, with the exception of instructional coordinators and supervisors. The total number of school librarians increased by less than 1 percent from school year 2005–2006 to 2006–2007; then steadily decreased each academic year through 2011.

Not surprisingly, salaries for new school librarians contracted by about $900 in 2011, averaging $44,515 and down by about 2 percent from the previous year, according to an October 2012 article in Library Journal. One bright note: There was a 9.6 percent increase in salaries for school library media specialists in the Midwest ($44,404 in 2011 compared to $40,150 in 2010).

The situation will only be aggravated by the automatic federal budget reductions known as “sequestration” that took place March 1, 2013, which made across-the-board cuts to a wide range of federal programs. And school libraries were already at risk.

Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation for the National School Boards Association, warned of “increased class sizes . . . the elimination of after-school and summer-school programs, a narrowing of the curriculum, the closing of school libraries, and more.”

Carl Harvey II, former president of the ALA’s American Association of School Librarians (AASL), wrote in the Huffington Post: “Cuts to school librarian positions betray an ignorance of the key role school librarians play in a child’s education, especially in this era of Google, when today’s students are flooded with an unprecedented volume of information. . . . The value of school librarians has been measured in countless studies demonstrating that strong school library programs help students learn more and score higher on standardized achievement tests.”

John Palfrey, president of the Digital Public Library of America Board of Directors, wrote in School Library Journal: “Budget cuts have eliminated support for many school library programs and the librarians who work in them. . . . The Obama Administration, strong on support for education as a general rule, has failed to champion school libraries and instead cut federal funding. The President’s 2013 budget proposal cut $28.6 million that was earmarked for literacy programs under the Fund for Improvement of Education.

“These types of cuts to school libraries are short-sighted,” Palfrey continued. “Students in programs with more school librarians and extended library hours scored 8.4 percent to 21.8 percent higher on English tests and 11.7 percent to 16.7 percent higher on reading tests, compared to students in schools where libraries had fewer resources, according to a study by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).”

And a lone voice, Marc Severson, from Tucson, Arizona: “In the school where I work we already know that next year we will have one less classroom teacher, no part-time counselor, and our half-time librarian will become a half-time library assistant. . . . These jobs are already gone and the additional loss of funds from sequestration makes our choices become either bad or worse.”

ALA President Maureen Sullivan has reacted to threats to school library instructional programs by launching a Special Presidential Task Force on School Libraries. The task force is leading a campaign “addressing the urgent need for advocacy for school libraries, as well as the impact of the de-professionalization and curtailment of school library instructional programs on students and student achievement.”

The task force, which continues the work of 2011–2012 ALA President Molly Raphael, will, among other things, collaborate with member groups to coordinate implementation of the campaign, serve as liaisons to key ALA divisions and other groups, and assist in outreach efforts to various external partners.

Summary of changes in technology installation in school libraries
  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2012 increase
Average number of computers in libraries 23.9 25.6 27.4 27.9 29.3 1.4 (5.0%)
Average number of school computers outside library with network access to library services 168.3 178.4 194.0 193.4 208.2 14.8 (7.6%)
Total of library and library-networked computers 190.6 203.6 220.4 221.1 237.5 16.4 (7.4%)

Source: AASL, School Libraries Count!


Connectivity increases thanks to networking, remote access

Connectivity to school libraries continues to rise, thanks to an increase in networked computers in schools as well as remote access to school library databases.

Although the average number of computers in school libraries in 2012 (29.3) is comparable to the number in 2011 (27.9), the average number of school computers outside the library with networked access to library services has increased significantly. In 2011, respondents to the School Libraries Count! survey conducted by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) reported an average of 193.4 school computers with access to library services, while in 2012, an average of 208.2 school computers was reported. This shows a 7.6 percent increase from the previous year and a 23.7 percent increase over the past five years.

The proportion of school library programs with remote access to their licensed databases also continues to rise, albeit more modestly. Eighty-four percent of respondents to the School Libraries Count! survey offered such access in 2012, an increase of 2 percent from 2011 and a total of 10percent over the past five years.

Other findings from the 2012 School Libraries Count! survey show that, overall, American school libraries are holding steady with regard to the number of hours open, the average number of hours worked by total staff, and the overall staffing levels. Library expenditures in information resources—print and nonprint materials, licensed databases, and other electronic access to information—also remain consistent with previous years. Respondents reported an increase in the average number of books in school library collections (13,517 in 2012, up 4.1 percent from 12,989 in 2011); however, the overall average copyright date (1996) of the books remained the same as in 2011.


Filtering continues to be an issue in most schools

Each year, the AASL adds a series of questions to its School Libraries Count! survey that addresses a current issue in the school library field. The 2012 questions focused on filtering. The survey showed that the filtering of legitimate, educational websites and academically useful social networking tools continues to be an issue in most schools nationwide. These schools report that overly restrictive filters have a negative impact on student learning, and findings indicate that they also impede curriculum development and collaboration activities.

Content filtered online
IF FILTER: which of the folowing itemsare currently filtered in your school? (select all that apply) ALL
Social networking sites 88%
IM/online chatting 74%
Gaming 69%
Video services (including YouYube, SchoolTube) 66%
Personal email accounts 41%
Peer-to-peer file sharing (used for downloading and sharing files) 40%
FTP (File Transfer Protocol, used for downloading large files) 32%
Newsgroups 17%
Professonal development tools for education (including e-binders, Google Docs) 9%
None of the above 2%
Other 7%
Source: AASL, School Libraries Count!


The 2012 AASL survey results affirm that filtering of online content is nearly universal across schools and school libraries. Of the 4,299 survey respondents, 98 percent reported that school or district filters are in place in their schools, and 88 percent reported that content is filtered for staff as well as students. More than half, 56 percent, reported the same level of filtering in place for both staff and students.

How does your school filter content:Filtering software 94%  ; Acceptable use policy 87%; Supervision of students while accessing Internet 73%; Limiting access to the Internet 27%; Allow student access to the Internet on a case-by-case basis 8%; Other 3%. Source, AASL School Libraries Count!


In the 2010 National Education Technology Plan, the U.S. Department of Education calls for “applying the advanced technologies used in our daily personal and professional lives to our entire education system to improve student learning, accelerate and scale up the adoption of effective practices, and use data and information for continuous improvement.” While nearly all schools reported the ability to request that a site be unblocked, most (68%) noted that the decision is usually made at the district level, while only 17 percent reported that the decision is made within their school. A need for a higher-level decision often leads to significant delays in accessing educational material.

How long does it take for a site to be unblocked after a request?: Immediately or within a few hours 27%; Within one to two days 35%; More than two days, but less than a week 17% One week or more 20%. Source: AASL,School Libraries Count!

The AASL has conducted its School Libraries Count! survey each year since 2007. More information on the background, methodology, and history of the survey—including the full 2012 report and past reports—is available on the AASL website.



A call for digital textbooks, and a case in point

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a speech at the National Press Club, on October 2, 2012, called for the nation to make the transition from printed textbooks to digital ones as quickly as possible.

“Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” he declared. It’s not just a matter of keeping up with the times, Duncan said, but about keeping up with other countries whose students are leaving their American counterparts in the dust.

Benilde–St. Margaret’s High School in Minneapolis is way out in front of the secretary on this score, but probably more for economic than for technological reasons. The school removed almost all its physical books from its library in 2011 and now makes extensive use of digital tools.

Having a robust community of neighboring branch and university libraries doesn’t hurt. “We weren’t saying no to hard-copy books,” said Principal Sue Skinner, “but let’s not duplicate what public and other libraries have.”


Using games and game elements to engage students

Games and gaming have become a part of many people’s lives in the past 10–15 years; libraries have kept up by supporting gaming resources and culture as a pursuit and leveraging them as a way of creating community and promoting personal and intellectual growth. In public libraries, gaming—like many other library services—represents opportunities that are unavailable or difficult to find elsewhere, helping to promote dialogue and create community.

In schools, “educators and librarians need to continue to showcase how games connect students to curriculum and create learning spaces that are dynamic and rich,” said Brian Mayer, a gaming and library technology specialist for Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, an educational services agency that supports the libraries of 22 rural school districts in Western New York, and a coauthor of “Libraries Got Game” (ALA Editions, 2010). The key in schools is “to break perceptions of educators that there is little value in gaming while exceeding the expectations of students by providing resources that have quality game play.”

“School libraries will continue to see more value in and provide meaningful context for the application of curricular context and skills,” Mayer said.

Mayer also believes that game experiences help address diversity “by providing opportunities for individuals to interact and engage with others in an environment that often encourages dialog and teamwork. This is where tabletop and other nondigital games really play a strong role: They provide a vehicle for interaction that is genuine and meaningful, often building respect for other individuals’ approaches and ideas.”

The price of easy information may be easy distraction

Teachers who instruct advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) high-schoolers have mixed feelings about students’ research habits and the impact of technology on their studies, according to a November 2012 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

More than three-fourths of the teachers surveyed said that internet and digital search tools have had a “mostly positive” impact on their students’ research work, but 87 percent said that today’s digital technologies “do more to distract students than to help them academically,” the report said. “The internet has opened up a vast world of information for today’s students, yet students’ digital literacy skills have yet to catch up,” according to a summary of the study.

About two-thirds of the AP and NWP teachers surveyed agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers,” but more than three-fourths think internet search engines have conditioned students to expect to be able to find information quickly and easily.

“Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83 percent) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71 percent),” the summary noted.

Twenty-four percent of those surveyed said students lack the ability to assess the quality and accuracy of information they find online, and another 33 percent reported that students lacked the ability to recognize bias in online content. Not surprisingly, almost half the teachers surveyed think courses and content focusing on digital literacy should be incorporated into every school’s curriculum.


The State of America's Libraries 2013